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Iran's Military Exercises Send Strategic Message to Israel, US


19 Nov 2010 19:4626 Comments

Large-scale war games include test of "upgraded" air defense missile system.

3_8908270358_L600.jpg[ primer ] Iran launched five-day military exercises on Nov. 16 to test its air defenses in case of an attack on its nuclear sites or other sensitive facilities. The war games -- dubbed Defenders of the Sky of Velayat III -- are the largest exercises ever held, according to the government. In a key development, Iran tested a new air defense missile system.

The exercises come at a sensitive time, given tensions over Iran's nuclear program, talk of a future Israeli strike, and scheduled diplomatic talks in December. As in the past, the new war games have been accompanied by a fair amount of bluster, bravado and strategic messaging. Their primary purpose, beyond training and testing new systems, is to showcase Iran's capabilities and deter potential attackers.

Given the advance rhetoric, Iran appears to be primarily messaging Israel, although other countries, including the United States, are also on the list.

The exercises were preceded by tactical drills that simulated real combat in Fordo, Tehran, Natanz, Bushehr, and Isfahan, all sites associated with Iran's nuclear program, according to Brigadier General Ahmad Mighani, the head of Iran's Air Defense Forces.

In another signal to the outside world, Iran tested a new air defense missile system known as the Mersad, or "ambush" in Farsi. It has been coupled with a domestically produced surface-to-air missile (SAM) called the Shahin, or "hawk" in Farsi. It is a reverse-engineered version of the I-HAWK first produced in the 1970s.

Tehran claims that Iranian scientists developed the new systems, which can identify and hit incoming missiles at low and medium altitudes. Iran also tested a new radar, which it claimed has a range of 3,000 kilometers or about 1,875 miles.

The test follows Russia's decision in September to comply with U.N. sanctions and not deliver the advanced S-300 SAM system that Tehran had ordered. Iranian officials have been furious at Moscow's unwillingness to follow through on the deal, with Iranian legislators even calling for the government to sue Russia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Iranian state television has implied that the Mersad test is linked to the failed S-300 deal. It reported that the new system is an "ungraded version" of the Russian S-200 anti-aircraft missile system but has the same capability as the S-300.

The Mersad/Shahin system, even with upgrades, is actually a far cry from the S-300. But in testing it, the Iranian military is sending a defiant -- if somewhat exaggerated -- message to Israel, the United States, Russia, as well as its own people that it is not dependent on Moscow's help to defend Iranian air space.

The exercises are being coordinated by the Khatam ol-Anbiya Air Defense Base, under the control of Iran's regular military, although other services, including the Revolutionary Guards, the police, and the Basij also appear to be involved. The last large-scale war games were in May in the Persian Gulf.

The latest exercise will be a critical test for the new command and its ability to coordinate operations across multiple services and agencies -- not an easy thing to do in a country with two parallel military chains of command, one for the regular military and another for the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On the operation's second day, the Iranian press reported that six unidentified foreign planes had intruded on Iranian airspace but were intercepted and forced to retreat. This rather interesting bit of news generated a stir in the Western media -- until Press TV, an Iranian state-run English-language news outlet, reported that the incidents were actually mock intrusions and part of the exercise. The next big Iranian military exercise -- with IRGC ground forces taking the lead -- is scheduled for late December. Stay tuned for more messaging.

Michael Connell is director of Iranian Studies at the Center for Naval Analyses, a nonprofit institution that conducts research and analysis in Washington, D.C. This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

related reading | Iran's Military Doctrine | archives War Games in the Persian Gulf

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Cue Pirouz to comment on how this article actually understates Iran's military capabilities (or misrepresents it).

Pak / November 19, 2010 9:09 PM

The Mersad is actually a medium range air defense system incorporating many upgraded elements of the MIM-23B I-HAWK.

This air exercise is a five day event. This article only contains snippets from typical newswire sources posted on the first two days.

More interesting developments actually revolve around a national radar system composed of two radar types, and the fielding of FM-80 short range air defense systems.

Pirouz / November 19, 2010 9:52 PM

@ Pirouz
Wow, you really have some inside information.

Agnostic / November 19, 2010 11:34 PM

Yeah, I'd like to see '60's technology intercept incoming missiles.
Or for that matter, I'd like to see '10's technolgy intercept incoming missiles.

muhammad billy bob / November 20, 2010 12:00 AM

Yet, the even much bigger news this week was that, Iran, for the first time in her history, became self sufficient in producing wheet; this news is especially striking in light of the fact that the population of the country has nearly doubled since the revolution; not to mention, of course, that Iran is now an exporter of gasoline, rather than an importer of it.

All great accomplishments. None of which were ever accomplished (despite the ideas themeselves being tossed around so much) when Iran was not under any sanctions by her then so called "western allies."

Ekbatana / November 20, 2010 12:48 AM

@ All

Look at this bluff by IRGC .
It says that they can detect and pursue the enemy airplanes as soon as their engines is on!!!

Man this IRGC guys like to over do it and they do it so much and so badly that makes a 5 year old to laugh.

Agnostic / November 20, 2010 1:40 AM

And you get this news from?! Waite from Evil Islamic News Corporation... Self sufficient in wheat, that is indeed a worthy news isn't it?

Ray / November 20, 2010 1:48 AM

No, not to you it isn't a worthy news. So, don't pretend.

Hehehehehe..., you are making a great point...to learn about commodity volumes in Iran, I should listen to news sources outside of Iran. It's all very rational.

Ekbatana / November 20, 2010 3:24 AM

Pak / November 19, 2010 9:09 PM

LOL. Pak,
you were right on....it took Pirouz less than an hour after your post for his very predictable reaction. What a loser.

Anonymous / November 20, 2010 6:13 AM

we have a new pirouz in Ekbatana now.one wheety character, LOL.
where do they find these characters?



Anonymous / November 20, 2010 3:58 PM

The point is that it's the little guys like me who live in Iran who have to deal with the stress of war, so I don't give a shit what some SAM does or doesn't.

A.j / November 20, 2010 7:44 PM

Provides for the right of countries to engage in military action in self-defense, including collective self-defense (i.e. under an alliance) FOR IRAN TO FIGHT FOR ITS RIGHTS AND FREEDOM. IRAN IS A LAND OF THE BRAVES.

Lipservice / November 20, 2010 11:44 PM

The comment so far do not address the article at all and appear to be aimed at settling old scores. Addressing the article itself, to suggest that Iran's technological capabilities in weaponry is comparable to the US is simply not credible. However, the key message in the article may be worth paying attention to.

In the past, Iran's war games had been targeted to send two messages: a) Iran can close the Hormuz (at least long enough to cause severe pain), and b) that it will retaliate on a broad scale using its missiles. In the defense circles and among the "talking heads", Iran's approach had been viewed as a reasonably effective deterrent message (based on several war game scenarios).

The current exercise appears to carry a new message - one that suggests a slightly more forward leaning approach. The question is why? Does Iran see this exercise changing the calculus of west's approach?

Jay / November 21, 2010 5:31 AM

MIM-23B I-HAWK: Phased out in 2002.
Russian S-200 (upgraded) that has the same capability as the S-300? Looney tunes.

F-14 Tomcat: phased out in 2006.
F-4 Phantom: Phased out in 1996
F-5 Tiger II:Phased out in 1987

On average the Iranian fighters are 32 to 40 years old. Despite modified avionics they remain structurally unsound and aged.

I would beg for mercy and prayers too. I cannot wait to see these Islamist murderers getting fished out of their hide outs (holes) by the Iranian people. You can see the fear in their faces.


Niloofar / November 21, 2010 2:42 PM


Iranians know too well what is happening in Iran and how the Iranian mind works. Let's hope the West knows what it is doing this time around. We do not need another 1979 disaster. We are done with calculus.

The Achilles heel of this regime is Gasoline for its internal consumption.

Please enlighten us. Please show Iranians the calculus of your approach.

Niloofar / November 21, 2010 10:34 PM

The Iranians have no defense against stealth aircraft (manned or UAV) nor a defense against low altitude cruise missiles.

Whenever the US or Israel decides to destroy Iranian facilities, they can........in less than an hour.

Kris in AL / November 22, 2010 5:22 AM

@ Kris in AL
Dear, its more complicated than that. Its not like one of the Hollywood movies that you might have recently watched, even if you have seen it in 3D.

Its not military superiority either, otherwise americans would not have their pose dragged in dust in Vietnam or Korea, not much less than what Saddam experienced in its 8 year war against Iran, not to forget what funny treatment IDF had in recent struggle against Lebanon.

Its not intelligence superiority either, since otherwise US would have figure all this nuclear thing well before it hit the fan.

So, good luck with your imagination and insight. This time around get a Nintendo WII. That keeps you in mental and physical shape as well.

Agnostic / November 22, 2010 11:45 PM

@ Niloufar khAnoom,
F-14 Tomcat is still a formidable fighter/interceptor and even today there is no Interceptor in any armed forces of the world which can detect, lock and shoot adversary flying object from such a long distance all under BVR, not even F-22 Raptor.
AIM-54 Phoenix is well capable of shooting a target from over 150 miles, no AIM is close, US Navy AIM-120 AMRAAM which is the modern replacement for AIM-54 can hit targets within 50 miles range.

If so capable then why US Navy phased it out? You might ask. 2 reasons:
1- The perceived targets which Tomcat was designed to contend do not exist any more. US Navy is not expecting swarm of USSR bombers fleet threatening US Navy Carrier Groups which F-14 was designed to protect against.

2- It was too complex, too heavy and too costly to maintain for assignments with lesser tactical and strategic value. So it was decommissioned.

During Iran-Iraq war F-14s cast mayhem on entire iraqi fighter/bombers, to a point in which all iraqi pilots were advised to turn to 270 deg. bearing (west) and fly as fast as possible if they suspected there was an Iranian F-14 in close aerospace.
We used to make fun of iraqi pilots radio conversation when they said "ef arbaa' ashraa yallah..yallah", (f-14....lets get the h*** outa here). (^_^)
For 8 consecutive years the top cover mission for entire Iranian aerospace was assigned to f-14s which in many occasion we used them as mini AWACS as well on top of their daily intercept and shoot down mission.

Aryajet / November 23, 2010 1:07 AM


As you know, the Iraqi hasn't been known to put up much of a fight in any circumstance.

But, the F-15 and F-16 were far superior to the F-14 in interception capability.

Even at the time, the F-14 was built as a second- line workhorse navy jet.

But anything going agianst the Iraqi air looked good. Heck, they made the A-10 look good.

muhammad billy bob / November 23, 2010 6:27 PM

Mr. Aryajet,

I am sure you are right and I am not an expert in the field. However, I would like to know, based on the current strength and readiness of the Iranian Airforce, the outcome of a direct confrontation between Iran and U.S., Israel, Nato or a combination of. I am very interested in your opinion. I don't believe they will do a 270 though.

Thank you

Niloofar / November 23, 2010 11:39 PM

@Muhammad billy bob

F-14 was the primary fighter/interceptor of US Navy. Unlike current F/A-18 Hornet (which replaced the Tomcat) it had no air to ground capability and was strictly an all weather interceptor.

F-14 and F-16 are not compatible because F-16 is a light all weather fighter/bomber more designed to fulfill ground attack (bomber) missions than a fighter.

F-15 specially the latest Strike Eagle is a master piece of aeronautic engineering but still equipped with AIM-120 can not match the distance which an AIM-54 equipped Tomcat can detect and shoot.
My comparison between F-14 and other fighter/interceptor of the world was based on the "distance" in which Tomcat still stands alone today. I'm not claiming US and/or other modern nations in the world are not able to build a match to Tomcat, the reason they do not attempt to do so is because the "need" is not there any more.
Also A-10 Warthog is designed to fly slow and low and just hunt Tanks (as well as target of opportunity on the ground,no one wants to be on the path of the Vulcan when it is singing) and it excels in that regard any other ground attack plane in the world. The only aircraft might get close to its performance and battlefield survivability might be Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot.

Your assertion about Iraq military performance is correct. Ever since the inception of Iraqi nation (1928?) they have been involved with 7 major wars (41, 48, 67, 73, 80, 91 and 03) and lost every single one of them. The only successful military operation they have conducted was gasing their own Kurdish people.

And regarding your statement about Iranian air force against US or IAF I must say no armed force (air or other wise) in the world can stand against USAF today.
If Iran was next door to Israel I would say IAF could win in the air, not a swift victory like USAF but an eventual win after bloody air war.
Considering the distance between the 2 the chances of 2 air forces facing each other is very slim. IAF "might" manage to get to western part of Iran but getting there and sustaining air superiority campaign is 2 different things.


Aryajet / November 25, 2010 6:47 PM

I just opined about F-14, not entire capability of Iranian Armed forces which look more like a military museum than a functioning dependable military forces.
But that does make Iran vulnerable to preemptive attacks at will. In early 1990s Iran decided to stop building force to conduct classic battlefield and instead they have adopted asymmetrical warfare doctrine.
That is the reason they have separated Air Defense force from other 3 which is an independent force on its own (we have 4 armed forces now)and invested heavily on ISBMs and IRBMs. Although not battle tested but with the all types of Anti-..... missile arsenal they might be able to cast mayhem on adversary forces. Even though there is plenty of hype praising ABM capabilities around the world but still detecting and shooting down a ballistic missile is most difficult task of an air war.
Upon reentry a ballistic missile is basically coming down vertical on target and the only thing air defense apparatus can detect is a "dot" with a meter in diameter coming down at over Mach 5 speed.


Aryajet / November 25, 2010 7:05 PM

Apologies offered. My above comment was in response to Ms. Niloufar's post.

Aryajet / November 25, 2010 8:37 PM

Mr. Aryajet,

Thank you for your input. I really enjoyed it. I have one more question for you please. I have read Iran's military was a very formidable force prior to 1979. I like to know your opinion on this matter and what is the current standing of Iran's military other than the guards. I see pictures of the head of the Iranian army, if I am not mistaken, but he appears to be standing in a corner at all times like an outcast. Is that reflective of his command and personnel?

Also, to all American friends and Iranian Americans on TB,

Happy Thanks Giving.

I have learned a lot from all of you.

Thank you

Niloofar / November 26, 2010 12:24 AM


Thank you for your comments. I think you are basically correct.

As the son of a USAF pilot and brother of a USN officer I have listened to these arguements for a while.

This arguement is rapidly becoming irrelevant. With the increasing sophistication of drone aircraft, pilot driven aircraft are becoming obsolete. Much to the dismay of USAF "pilots" who are now protesting that it's no longer required that a "pilot" be the remote operator of drone aircraft.

But then Navy pilots, and aircraft carriers, have been obsolete since world wide in-air refueling has been possible....

muhammad billy bob / November 27, 2010 1:07 AM